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Global Naga Forum reacts to Assam Rifles’ rebuttal

This is a response to Assam Rifles’ “Draft Rebuttal on the Press Statement by Global Naga Forum (GNF) Against Assam Rifles” in Nagaland Page, 12 Nov 2021, where they stated: “Assam Rifles out rightly rejects the allegations levelled by Global Naga Forum (GNF) against the Security Forces, as absolutely baseless.” The Global Naga Forum disagrees. We stand by our allegation. The facts prove it. We explain below.
What the Global Naga Forum carried out was a modest relief effort for fellow Nagas with urgent needs in Myanmar. Two Naga groups travelled to Shilloi from both sides of the border for the transfer of goods donated by Nagas. Assam Rifles were clearly not pleased with GNF’s relief mission because they harassed both groups on two separate occasions.
First, Assam Rifles sent back three Nagas from Myanmar who had arrived in Shilloi before they could meet up with the group from Nagaland. They deported them because, according to the Assam Rifles, the Nagas from Myanmar “had allegedly come to collect relief material.” Allegedly? So they harassed them and sent them away without the relief materials they had travelled for days to fetch. GNF would like to remind all concerned, once again, of Article 36 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIPs), which clearly states that “Indigenous peoples, in particular those divided by international borders [like the Nagas are] have the right to maintain and develop contacts, relations and cooperation.” And “States [like India and Myanmar in which indigenous peoples have their homelands] shall take effective measures to facilitate the exercise and ensure implementation of this right.”
The day after Assam Rifles deported the three Nagas from Myanmar, they harassed the relief group travelling to Shilloi from Kohima. Among them were seven women including leaders of the Naga Mothers’ Association and some older individuals with diabetic and blood pressure conditions. So they were concerned. Assam Rifles held up the GNF group in Washelo for 45 minutes, questioning them about personal information, checking their phones, and asking them to stand to have their photographs taken. They refused to be photographed because they had committed no crime and were travelling lawfully in their homeland. By the time they were let go, after the Nagaland government intervened, it was dinner time. It was 9:30 PM when the group reached Shilloi. Dinner which was supposed to be ready was not, because another Assam Rifles personnel had been wasting the Resort staff’s time with queries about the GNF group arriving that evening.
The group had reached Shilloi ahead of the vehicle carrying the relief materials. Poor phone network prevented them from contacting the driver and his assistant coming behind them. Not knowing what had happened to them, one of the GNF members in Shilloi contacted a family member back home with instructions to call the driver and find out how things were going. The family member couldn’t reach the driver, but the driver called to say he had a mechanical problem on the road. As he and his assistant were sitting in the vehicle, Assam Rifles personnel came to inquire after them. They said they were being taken by Assam Rifles to a village for the night, leaving the relief vehicle behind. The driver was talking to the GNF family member on the phone in his native language, when an Army officer took over the conversation from the driver and asked the GNF family member for the name and the profession of one of the leaders of GNF, who was on the relief team in Shilloi. The family member was disturbed by this line of questioning. The driver said he could not speak freely to the GNF family member. Knowing how volatile and dangerous any incident involving the Indian Armed forces can get in Nagaland, where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is in force, the family member was troubled. Were the driver and his assistant in trouble and being prevented from talking freely?
The family member managed to reach Shilloi by phone, a couple of hours past midnight, and reported to the GNF team what the driver and his assistant said had happened to them. The Shilloi group had a restless and anxious night, helplessly worrying about the driver and his assistant, till at about 10 o’clock in the morning the driver called to explain what had happened. The GNF group were relieved and glad to learn the driver got help from Assam Rifles. They also came to know later that Assam Rifles had donated Rs.1000 (one thousand rupees) to the relief effort. It was because of the road assistance Assam Rifles gave the driver and his assistant that GNF had only briefly described in the earlier Press Release (11 Nov) how Assam Rifles treated GNF’s relief mission. We did not even use the word harassment.
To Assam Rifles, what they did to GNF was a job well done. It was a case of “all’s well that ends well.” Their harassment of the two groups didn’t count. On the strength of road assistance and an unsolicited donation of Rs.1000/-, they went back to their routine of harassing Nagas and saying whatever they wanted later. They rejected outright, “as absolutely baseless,” the facts GNF had reported about Assam Rifles’ treatment of the two relief groups, in Washelo and in Shilloi. It seems too easy for Assam Rifles to see themselves as the heroic guardians of India’s frontiers, who “continue to provide assistance to people in the remotest of regions, despite the odds,” “to ensure safety and security of the people,” and “peace in the region.”
But that is not how Nagas experience and see Assam Rifles’ ubiquitous presence in our land. We are watched by them and Indian “Security Forces” everywhere we go. If we belong to a Naga civil organization or group on the lookout for Naga people’s wellbeing, our movements in our own homeland are scanned and restricted. We cannot travel and engage in social work and go about our daily lives without surveillance by Assam Rifles. After deporting the three Nagas from Myanmar, Assam Rifles personnel not only hung around Shilloi the night of Nov. 6, but continued throughout the next day to watch GNF’s relief activities from a lookout above the resort, questioning the group’s drivers about the GNF team. Shilloi Lake Resort has been a tourist destination for many years. It is a property of the Nagaland state government on lease to a private business. So under what authority does Assam Rifles get to enter the establishment and harass the staff, demanding the names and photos of tourists who go to Shilloi to relax? Shilloi Lake resort is a beautiful tourist spot, not a hideout for anti-India activists. It is not a war zone. The fear of GNF’s family member on 6th November night about a possible abduction of the driver and his assistant was not singular or strange; it was not paranoia. Many Nagas live in fear of becoming innocent targets and victims of fake Indian Army “encounters with rebel groups.”
In short, GNF wants to put on record here that Assam Rifles harassed our Relief and Peace Mission on two separate occasions, and we were watched throughout. Assam Rifles can tell themselves and the world they did nothing wrong, that, on the contrary, they contributed to a good Naga cause and helped Nagas in need. Assam Rifles don’t need to worry about the destruction of lives and families and the ugly things their presence in the Naga homeland has caused for all these decades because the law is on their side. AFSPA shields them, has shielded them since 1958, from having to answer for violations of Naga people’s human rights even in our homeland.
GNF believes Nagas are obligated to uphold our human rights, just as every group in India and Myanmar are obligated to do the same, including NPGs and Indian “Security Forces”. The modest relief effort the Global Naga Forum carried out for Naga families in need in Myanmar did not deserve to be put under Assam Rifles’ prying scanner. It did not need the public attention and controversy Assam Rifles has made it become. As small as it was, our relief mission was wholly within universal human rights guaranteed by international treaties and conventions.
We therefore urge Assam Rifles to respect Naga rights, not only because you are in our homeland, but because doing right by one another is the foundation for mutual respect and peaceful co-existence. Nagas are where we naturally belong. You know that. Nagas are not intruding into your towns and cities and communities. We just want to live in peace and grow and prosper as a people in our ancestral homeland. We do not understand why you should have a problem with that — to an extent you would be prepared to go through so much trouble to come here and harass and disrupt our lives, to kill us and get killed? This doesn’t make good sense.
The Global Naga Forum firmly hopes India and Myanmar will collaborate with the Naga people to settle our differences and problems, instead of using your military might and political forces to harass and divide us. We believe the Naga people of the 21st century are the proud heirs to a fundamentally good human cause: Naga dignity as a freedom-loving people with rich cultures and a shared history. This is a precious heritage that hurts nobody and should please people of goodwill anywhere. India and Myanmar have needlessly and violently denied this fundamental right to the Nagas, forcing Nagas into an unnecessarily arduous and tragic struggle. Our point is this: Nagas of this generation deserve an undivided homeland — after all these decades of violence and wasteful struggle — to live and grow together as a modern democratic society in our ancestral homeland. And we request India and Myanmar to “take effective measures to facilitate the exercise” of our common Naga peoplehood, “and ensure implementation of this right”.
Prof Paul Pimomo Prof Rosemary Dzuvichu
Secretary Co-Convenor, GNF & Chair
Global Naga Forum Committee on Nagas in Myanmar